Known as “the one with the whales”, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) is not typical of the film franchise. It has no villain in the conventional sense, and its theme is strongly environmental. Star Trek IV is also lighter in tone than other films in the series, containing more humor.
The change in tone is attributable to director Leonard Nimoy, who received free rein when Paramount asked him to direct its new Star Trek film. Nimoy and producer Harve Bennett sought to avoid the operatic story lines of the previous Star Trek films. Nimoy and Bennett developed a story, which passed through several writers (Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer, and Bennett) to become a finished script.
It is the year 2286. A mysterious probe sends out an unknown signal and disables all ships in its path before orbiting Earth. It generates chaos and blocks out the sun. Earth sends out a general distress signal telling all ships to stay away.
Meanwhile, the former officers and crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are living in exile on the planet Vulcan. They are fugitives, having destroyed the Enterprise and stolen a Klingon vessel as part of their plan to revive Spock (Leonard Nimoy) from the dead. The officers and crew vote to return to Earth in their stolen ship and stand trial for their crimes. Spock vows to go with them.
Once they near Earth, however, they discover the probe. Spock listens to the probe’s signal and determines it is the song of an extinct species, the humpback whale. In order to save humanity, the Enterprise crew must time-travel to 1986, locate two humpback whales, and bring them to the future.
We have seen these characters so many times that we already know their interpersonal dynamics. Spock and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) do not get along, which makes it all the funnier that McCoy carried Spock’s consciousness in his head for a while. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is a risk taker and ladies’ man, so no surprise that he locates a pretty whale biologist named Gillian (Catherine Hicks) on Earth.
Some of the most enjoyable scenes in the film occur when the visitors from the 23rd century encounter 1986 San Francisco. Dr. McCoy is not above using his advanced medical knowledge to help patients at a hospital, while engineer Scotty (James Doohan) is bemused when he encounters a 20th century computer. Spock is, as ever, perplexed by human behavior.
I am going to close with a few of the many great quotes from the film.
Scotty: Damage control is easy. Reading Klingon-that’s hard.
[Kirk and Spock enter a bus headed for the aquarium-only to exit the bus about two seconds later]
Spock (to Kirk) What does it mean, “exact change”?
Gillian: Don’t tell me! You’re from outer space.
Kirk: No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.
Theme: Ecological Solutions
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